'A reign of justice'
We pledge ourselves to seek the correction of injustices wherever they occur. – Uniting Church Statement to the Nation, June 1977
Since the beginning of the Uniting Church, a deep commitment to justice for all has been core to its identity and activity. We have understood that Christian discipleship, in responding to the gospel, entails a commitment to seek and advocate for equity, be in solidarity with the marginalised, work for peace, and care for creation.
There are many expressions of this commitment across the Uniting Church in our councils, our agencies, our ministries and congregations.
We share some of these stories as we continue to explore Identity as a key pillar of the work of the Assembly.
Fronting directly on to the major café and dining precinct of Sydney Road in Melbourne’s inner north, the community of Brunswick Uniting Church has become known as an active presence of hospitality, justice and community engagement.
A commitment to justice at the heart of its identity finds expression in many directions: a ministry of hospitality, the local pursuit of reconciliation with First Peoples, and strong protest and advocacy movements for equality, refugees, and the environment.
Minister Rev Ian Ferguson says that many of its activities flow from a core commitment to the missional and hospitable use of congregational life and church property.
This is seen first in one of its key ministries, The Olive Way, a community drop-in centre open to anyone who lives or visits locally. Founded in 2007, it now has an established history of seeking to correct the injustices of disadvantage and marginalisation through fostering a sense of belonging.
“We invite the community to come and to be fed – literally, physically, but also in spirit through companionship, conversation, and creative activities,” said Ian. “There’s a recognisable core of people who see that as a home, a place to meet in the local community.”
The City of Moreland awarded the initiative a Community Partnerships Award in 2019.
Strong involvement in advocacy and protest includes taking part in the Love Makes A Way movement locally, engaging in prayer and non-violent action for an end to indefinite detention and other inhumane refugee and asylum seeker policies. Like many Uniting Church congregations, it works in partnership with other local churches and joins larger protest movements for justice in this area.
A strong local voice for climate change awareness and climate justice, a Climate Action Group is a core activity of the congregation. A climate action plan has, among other things, seen the worshipping site become carbon neutral – expected to soon become carbon positive. Alongside this is persistent activism for increased political action on the climate crisis.
There is also an articulated climate theology, that God’s reign – a reign of justice – is transformative of the earth, human relationships, and human relationship with the earth.
Feeding into the shape of environmental activism is the pursuit of reconciliation between First and Second Peoples locally, with an active Walking Together group providing leadership. Ian notes that this area is key to and intersectional with all others: “In a sense that’s part of everything – that’s the foundation of everything.”
The congregation has also been a vocal supporter of same gender marriage, working to make itself genuinely affirming and hospitable for the LGBTIQ+ community. “We try to regularly affirm the inclusiveness of our community towards all people on the various gender and sexuality spectrums, and to proclaim a theology from which that arises,” said Ian.
Ultimately their commitment to justice is bound together by two things. “I see our social justice work as arising very strongly out of our identity as Uniting Church, and out of our understanding of who God is.”
As Rev Dr John Squires writes for another story in this Identity series, the UCA ‘received from its predecessor Churches a strong commitment to justice advocacy for all’.
Ian agrees: “We inherit a really profound tradition through our Church of social justice work, and we inherit a Church that is now profoundly shaped by those concerns.”
“An important part of our theological DNA is the proclamation of the justice of God. The coming Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of love, justice, and peace. It is not something we are passively waiting for, but we are actively seeking to witness to this in our communities.”
“So when we work for justice, our communities become places where the reign of God can be seen already.”
Justice is also core to Uniting Church identity because of the Gospel witness to the life and ministry of Jesus.
“From the life of Jesus, we understand that the reign of God begins with the last and the least. In these stories we see that the saving power of God is manifest through an emerging community around Jesus that includes those marginalised by social, political, or religious institutions and those who were outsiders in his time. And we too have a call to the margins.”
“We seek to serve and to join in with the mission of God in the world and to see our own mission as evangelical, in the sense of living the gospel in embodied and transformative ways in the world. That’s how I see the vocation of the Uniting Church.”
Ian recognises that the Uniting Church may face a challenge now and into the future if it can no longer assume a ‘place at the table’ in the public sphere, or if the message of the church is dimmed by reputational damage or diminishing goodwill.
“We may not have the same facility that we had in the past to be part of public conversations. We used to be able to claim a seat at the table … I think those days are passing.”
Where does that leave us? “I think it leaves us in a place of freedom,” says Ian. “We’re freed to be in a place of witness – the people of Christ witnessing to the coming of God.”
“It also leaves us with the local congregation, working in relationship and partnership with the local community. That’s where the work happens.”
Written by Bethany Broadstock